I must admit that when I first saw the announcement that the folks at Altium
were planning to transfer their HQ from Sydney, Australia, to Shanghai, China (Click Here
to see that article), I checked the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1.
When I realized that this wasn’t an April Fools’ joke, my next reaction was “What? Are they serious? What would prompt them to make such a move?”
So I decided to investigate a little more, and I had a chat with the folks at Altium, and I must admit that now I’ve had the time to mull things over I’ve come to the conclusion that this is really a very bold and exciting move.
Of course, when you look back on the history of Altium, you quickly come to realize that “Bold and Exciting”
is what they do best. Let’s cast our minds deep into the mists of time … way back in the early 1980s when we find a guy called Nick Martin (Altium’s CEO and CTO) living "Down Under" on the island of Tasmania (which is actually an Australian state and is known to many as "The Jewel of the South"
Nick required access to tools to design printed circuit boards, but such tools were jolly expensive at the time, so he designed his own. In 1985, Nick formed Protel, which subsequently became one of the major players in affordable, off-the-shelf PCB design tools.
Of particular interest with regard to the current move is that this isn’t the first time Nick has taken such a step. In the 1990s, Nick moved the Protel operation to Silicon Valley, because that’s where he felt it needed to be. Later, he moved everything back to Sydney, because he felt that was the best move at the time.
In 2001 they adopted the name Altium; truth-to-tell I'm not sure why they changed their name, but I’m guessing that it was because Protel was primarily associated with PCBs and they wished to branch out into other areas, starting with PCB-FPGA co-design, and now all sorts of stuff like Cloud-based computing.
Companies do tend to move portions of their operation around on occasion, but my personal experience has been that those who don the undergarments of authority and stride the corridors of power tend to ensure that it’s someone else lower down the organizational chart that actually does the moving.
Not in this case. Altium is planning to transfer its entire core software development activities, corporate office, and executive management team to its existing sales and support office in Shanghai. From the perspective of existing users in America, Asia, and Europe it will be “business as usual.” Similarly, nothing really changes from the perspective of users in Australia, because the Sydney office will remain as a local sales and support center.
The reason for this move is that China is emerging as a major player in the electronics market, it has the local technical resources required to support the core engineering team, and the folks at Altium feel that it is important for them to have a real presence in China and to become truly part of the Chinese electronics design community.
It seems that the guys and gals at Altium have been considering the economic landscape and the opportunity landscape for some time, and – based on their deliberations – they say that China represents the best location and opportunity for the execution of their plans for the development of the market for tools, methodologies, and systems that will help customers transform their businesses from product-based models to a service-based approach, where web-based ecosystems enable direct relationships between device end-users and device manufacturers.
In some ways this might be seen as a follow-on from Altium’s acquisition of Morfik
in November 2010. At that time, Altium explained that its objective was to help electronics designers expand their role from designing the electronics in devices to the larger role of designing and engineering web-based ‘device ecosystems’. These ecosystems will consist of the actual electronic devices, connected via the Internet, along with cloud-based software applications that run on this platform. A more recent (and more detailed) exposition of this philosophy was presented in the article The real role of EDA in the Cloud
Personally, I have to say that I am very impressed. It takes a lot of guts to undertake something like this. We often hear of EDA companies doing things like “opening a research center” in other countries, but this is the first time I recall a company like Altium making a move as big and bold as this.
The bottom line is that the management team at Altium are very much “thought leaders” who have the courage of their convictions and who tend to act on their vision. They took the lead in changing from a tool-chain type environment to a platform design environment; then they became “The EDA company that bought the Web company”
; and now they are poised to take China by storm. I wish them all the best, and I look forward to seeing many more surprises from them in the future.